‘End Assault On Rural Economy,’ Unpaid NREGA Workers At Jantar Mantar Protest

NREGA workers from 15+ states assembled in New Delhi from August 2-4, seeking pending payouts and justice


New Delhi, August 2, 2022: Payments for NREGA scheme workers have been delayed since December last year. Although the Supreme Court has ordered the government to pay compensation for delay in signing FTOs (fund transfer orders), the matter hasn’t moved forward and the workers are stranded without pay – let alone compensation.

In 17 states, NREGA wage rates are far less than the corresponding minimum wage rates in those states. Various judgments have upheld that NREGA wage rates can’t be less than the minimum agricultural wage rates of the state.

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The government’ s claim of 92% on-time payment generation is misleading. A quick survey reveals that payments are regularly delayed, despite the order of the Supreme Court and orders issued by the finance ministry.

Persistent low wages have resulted in NREGA workers losing interest to work.

With uncontrolled inflation aggravating the state of the unpaid workers, hundreds of them from more than 15 states are holding peaceful sit-in protests at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi from August 2-4, calling for an end to the assault on the rural economy.

The treatment of the rural population during the peak of the pandemic was highlighted by the protesters, bringing back memories of lakhs of migrant labourers forced to leave cities due to flash lockdowns.

Consistently shrinking budgetary allocation, year-round delay in wage payments, negligible compensation for those delays, generally low wages for NREGAs are some of the emergency issues plaguing India’s heartland.

NREGA workers protesting at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi.

“Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains.” “The people united shall never be defeated.” “We shall overcome.” The protests are witnessing inspiring slogans from the past make a timely comeback. 

The first day of protests were marked by the singing of protest songs, and testimonies narrated by individuals about their experiences of working under the NREGA scheme.

Workers from Bengal, Telangana, Bihar and UP repeatedly highlighted the issue of delays in payments. They have also not been receiving unemployment allowances they are entitled to. The new NMMS application for marking absenteeism is causing much distress to the workers across the country.

Anuradha Talwar from Pashchim Banga Khet Mazdoor Samiti spoke about the demand to hike the NREGA wage rate to Rs 600 per day, which roughly equals to the monthly salary of the lowest paid government employees as per the recommendations of the Seventh Pay Commission.

She highlighted the situation of Bengal, which suffers from the worst wage delays in the country. Wages worth more than Rs 2,600 crore are yet to be paid over the last two financial years.

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